|Draft Spotlight: Seattle Team Needs|
It's that time of year again. The Seahawks completed their third straight season as NFC West Champs, but it was an up-and-down year and they aren't as far ahead talent-wise as they had been in previous years. Seahawks.NET's Ryan Rigmaiden takes an early look at Seattle's needs heading into free agency and the draft while kicking off .NET's draft coverage in earnest.
The 2006 season is over for the Seahawks, but the offseason has officially begun. Free Agency begins March 2nd and the NFL's version of a garage sale promises to be an interesting one for the Seahawks. Over the past couple years we've seen Seattle re-sign its ‘star' players to long-term deals. Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones are all under contract for what should amount to the remainder of their careers. This year is different, though.
While the Seahawks have some talented players entering Free Agency, none are considered star-caliber players. Some are solid starters and some are backups that contribute regularly, but all have to be evaluated to determine if they'll have a role on the team next season. Let's take a look at whose contracts are expiring.
Seattle's Free Agents and Restricted Free Agents
Seattle doesn't have any elite players with their contracts expiring like they did last year with Steve Hutchinson. However, the sheer number of solid players that could leave isn't anything to scoff at.
S Ken Hamlin, K Josh Brown, TE Jerramy Stevens and WR Bobby Engram are all unrestricted and can sign with whatever team they want once Free Agency starts. Starting RT Sean Locklear, WR D.J. Hackett, DT Craig Terrill and versatile CB/S Jordan Babineaux are restricted, meaning the club can tender them for Draft pick compensation should they sign elsewhere.
History has shown that Seattle isn't very proactive when it comes to re-signing their own players, so it's hard to imagine that any of these players will re-sign before Free Agency begins on March 2nd. GM Tim Ruskell has stated that they (the front office) will evaluate each player and come to a conclusion on their status with the team, but there is no rush to get these deals done.
For the sake of the team I hope that a small fire will be lit under our front office so that they can knock out a couple of deals before our players are at SeaTac with bags in hand.
Who's coming back?
Reading Seattle's front office has never been easy. Who would've guessed last year that an all-world guard like Hutchinson would be allowed to leave via a "poison-pill" contract or that linebacker Julian Peterson would come to the "Emerald City"? There is one certainty, though – Tim Ruskell's desire to have high-character players that mesh well in the locker room.
That could spell doom for two Seahawks in particular – Stevens and Hamlin.
Stevens' off-field trouble has been well documented, but other than pleading guilty to reckless-driving, he's been able to keep his nose clean. It's his inconsistent play on the field that has him in hot water as of late. His drops have become a problem, but there's no denying his talent. He's a matchup nightmare for most linebackers and safeties, but his focus will have to improve in order for him to reach that potential. Let's hope it's not too late for him.
Hamlin had two DWI convictions while in college, but it was thought that he'd matured once he arrived in Seattle in 2003 and that those days were behind him. However, a much publicized night club incident in which he received severe damage to his skull raised some old questions. But in his defense, authorities never charged Hamlin with any crime and he's a leader in the locker room and on the field. And unlike Stevens, Hamlin doesn't have the lapses in his play.
Engram and Hackett each bring unique qualities to the team. Engram's the experience veteran who's always open on third down working from the slot and Hackett is the big, athletic target that can bring down any jump ball Matt Hasselbeck throws his way and, until his injury, seemed to be Hasselbeck's most trusted receiving option. You have to wonder how much the 34 year old Engram has left, but equally you have to question whether Hackett, a young player who's struggled with minor injuries, can stay healthy for an entire season.
Locklear's been very solid at right tackle since his rookie year. Does anyone remember the revolving door situation before him? Chris Terry was ok, but injuries and off-field drama led to Locklear being the starter. I cringe when I think about him not coming back.
Backups like Craig Terrill and Jordan Babineaux are the kind of players every coach loves to have. They hustle and do virtually anything the coaches ask them to do. Terrill has become a fan-favorite as a rotation defensive tackle and Babineaux's nickname ‘Big Play Babs" couldn't be truer. He's single handedly beat Dallas twice, the most recent coming in the playoffs.
Terrill's hustle and Babineaux's flexibility are great assets to the team, but will it be enough to secure a roster spot?
That brings us to Brown. After kicking 6 game-winning field goals in the past two years, you'd think he'd already be re-signed. For some reason he's not, but I think he's at the top of the list. Even his kickoff distance, an area of weakness for him throughout his career, has improved and he's proven to be one of the most clutch kickers in the game.
Coming Back: FS Ken Hamlin, K Josh Brown, CB/S Jordan Babineaux, WR D.J. Hackett, RT Sean Locklear, TE Will Heller
50/50: WR Bobby Engram, TE Jerramy Stevens, DT Craig Terrill, RG Chris Gray, DE Joe Tafoya.
Now Departing: G Floyd Womack, CB Jimmy Williams, RB/KR Josh Scobey, LB D.D. Lewis.
After thoroughly looking at the entire roster, a few areas jump out at me – Guard, Defensive Tackle, Center and Tight End. Here's an in-depth look at each position.
Guard: As a person who originally thought the loss of left guard Steve Hutchinson would hurt, but not too much, I hereby admit my idiocy.
The loss of the All Pro was much worse than I possibly could have imagined. I've never seen an entire offense struggle because of one weakness along the offensive line, but it happened nonetheless. "Pork Chop" Womack struggled on the field and then with injuries…again. He's an unrestricted free agent and probably won't be back next year.
Rookie Rob Sims struggled at first, but got better each game and should start next season, but the questions are now on the right side. Veteran right guard Chris Gray is 37 years old and is also a free agent, further clouding his future with the team. I'm sure the team would like to have him back, but how effective will he be? He's a decent veteran player, but struggles with better defensive tackles and can't be counted on at that age.
Adding two new players is an absolute necessity before training camp. Preferably, one would be an experienced veteran and another you could be added through the Draft.
Cincinnati's Eric Steinbach is the best on the market, but the Seahawks may not be able to afford him. Others veterans to watch: Derrick Dockery (Washington), Cosey Coleman (Cleveland), Andre Gurode (Dallas), Rick DeMulling (Detroit).
Defensive Tackle: For as much as the offense missed Hutchinson last year, the defense missed Marcus Tubbs.
He doesn't have the stats that some of the other defenders have, but Tubbs' size and strength command double-teams, freeing up linebackers to make tackles all over the field. Injuries have prevented him from having the kind of impact coaches know he can and this may be the last year for him to prove his worth.
Outside of Tubbs, the club is stocked with undersized players like Chuck Darby, Rocky Bernard and Terrill. Darby plays the run better than Bernard or Terrill, but the latter are better rushing the passer. Bernard can be a force when motivated, but didn't have success last year like he did in 2005. Terrill is pure hustle, but he's nothing more than a rotation player. Russell Davis is decent vs. the run, but isn't much of a pass rushing threat.
The Seahawks have to either get more production out of their current crop of defensive tackles, or swap one of its current players for a better player. Seattle can't afford to have difficulties in the running game like they did last year. Veteran targets include Ian Scott (Chicago), Terdell Sands (Oakland) and RFA Randy Starks (Tennessee).
Center: If you ever wonder how important a center is to a team, look no further than Robbie Tobeck. Largely the heart and soul of the offensive line, Tobeck's comedic demeanor kept players loose and his tenacity helped move the chains. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck spoke at length this season about what Tobeck means to him and the team and how much they missed him while he was injured. He's retiring this year and will be missed.
The good news for Seattle is that former #1 pick Chris Spencer played well in Tobeck's absence this year and should transition nicely as a starter next year. He has the size and strength that Tobeck lacked, but only time will tell whether he'll be as effective.
Currently behind Spencer is, well…nobody and that's a problem. Adding another body is a necessity and getting a veteran should be the route to take. Having an experienced pivot man would be nice to have in the event that Spencer goes down. Players of interest include Al Johnson (who also can play guard) (Dallas), Dan Koppen (New England), Hank Fraley (Cleveland) and Shaun O'Hara (New York Giants).
Tight End: At times I feel like I'm the Stevens fan in the world. Yes he's had a bad batch of drops since the Super Bowl. Yes he's also not the most popular player in the league and is known as somewhat of a thug. However, he's also stayed away from the legal issues that haunted him as a young man. He has the size, speed and ability that create mismatches down the middle of the field and can be dominating when given the chance (see this year's Wild Card game vs. Dallas).
Remember when Darrell Jackson was plagued by drops two years ago (and he had his share this year, too)? Remember the San Diego game this year when Deion Branch had 4 drops in one game? These things happen and I just wish people would look past Stevens' image and see the player. He's a Free Agent this year and while I hope he's brought back. It's probably a 50-50 proposition right now.
Will Heller is the backup tight end and proved to be a valuable player this season. He's primarily a blocker, but caught the ball well when given the chance and even saw spot duty at FB. No one will mistake him for a receiving threat, but his blocking ability should bring him back in 2007. There isn't a third tight end on the roster right now.
The decision to re-sign Stevens will be a big one for the offense. If he's brought back, the team has the prototype west-coast tight end. If not, the team MUST get another player who can run and be a factor in the passing game. Possibilities include Daniel Graham (New England), Billy Miller (New Orleans) and Vishante Shiancoe (New York Giants).
**Note: Head coach Mike Holmgren was said to be a big fan of Daniel Graham while he coached him at the Senior Bowl in 2002 and was set to draft him before New England traded up to select him. Holmgren instead opted for Stevens after trading down.
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